I have to wonder how the dogs seem to know 3 minutes before the alarm goes off to jump up in the bed and wake me up. Even on opening day when I get up a few hours early they jump up there and get me up and while sitting on the edge of the bed stretching, the alarm goes off. OK?well it is time for a cup of coffee and time to let them out to run around before getting the gear in the truck and shoving off to see if I can get into some ducks. The air outside is blowing. It feels kind of warm for fall with a heavy load of humidity in it?a front is blowing through that will be great for hunting conditions. While the dogs are still out running around, I make my way over to the coffee to fix a cup and notice the coffee maker clock says I got up a whole hour early. But the coffee is ready?I must of screwed the time up for the thing to start brewing last night when I was setting it.
OK?well I?m up, the coffee is ready, and the air outside is pleasant, so I?ll sit out on the back deck and enjoy the dark, enjoy the brisk breeze and my coffee while letting the dogs run. As I sit there, I think about today and past hunts. Today I am going to pick up a young kid that just can?t seem to kill a drake duck. My neighbor down the road is mentoring the boy and has hunted with him for two years now and still can?t manage a drake. He has to work today, so I told him I would take Conner. I remember the last day of the season last year we were all hunting together and had an unsuccessful day. We were heading to the ramp in the neighbors johnboat and I was driving. He suggested pulling to the back of a cove right at the boat ramp that had a bunch of marsh grbooty growing in the very back of it to see if any ducks were back there. Well I figured what the heck and headed on back there. Sure as the world we see a great big drake redhead out of its normal open-water environment sitting on the edge of the grbooty all by himself. It got fairly shallow back there so I shut off the motor and took up the push pole and we told Conner to load up his gun. As I quietly approached, we could tell the bird was getting nervous and it finally flew?it took off flying right at us and headed straight up over our heads at about 20 yards. At the right moment my neighbor told Conner to shoot and he unloaded his gun?never touching a feather.
So today it was all on me to get the kid in the right place to finally get his drake. Today would be different too. I was taking him to a creek that was loaded down with wood ducks. We were taking the kayaks and I had to decide on a game plan. The dogs were still running around and my coffee was finally cool enough to drink. I remembered a bud telling me his favorite way to kill creek or river ducks was to find out where other guys were going to float and then set up below them and let them drive the birds on down to him?that may be a good thing for Conner this morning.
So I went ahead and got the dogs in the house and got the gear ready?and ?ol Ruddy knew what was going on. I had decided to leave all of them at home today since we would be in the yaks, but he went and lay next to the gun bag giving me these sad dog eyes?
So?OK?he could go.
Conner was standing outside the front door of his house when I got there. He is a little guy for his age. He had just turned old enough to drive, but the guy could barely hold that big shotgun case and was dwarfed in all of his camo gear. The trip to the river was quiet. I told him what my plan was and he was fine with everything. Ruddy was back in the back seat shivering with anticipation, panting at the same time. The plan was to paddle up to a small beaver dam in the creek. Just above it there was a nice pool and a big sandbar where several big oak trees dropped acorns. That is where Conner would sit and wait. I was going to go on and paddle on up a good bit and then drift back down and hopefully push birds to the teen.
Arriving at the creek we unloaded an olive drab Ultimate for Conner and I would paddle my camo colored Slayer. I hadn?t had it long enough to hunt out of it, so this was its inaugural voyage. Ruddy seemed to know which boat he was riding in since he went fishing with me in it all summer long and went on and jumped in the back of the Slayer. I had a whole five decoys to throw out for Conner?I figured that would be plenty. We got everything stowed, guns in floating cases, and shoved off heading for the beaver dam a little over a half mile upstream. Our head lamps shinning, we jumped up several woodies and the boy was eager to get there. Ruddy wanted to bolt but must have remembered past trips getting knocked in the head with a paddle when he did that, so he quickly caught himself and sat still.
The beaver dam appeared in our light beams quickly enough and being in fairly stable open yaks, we were able to easily step out and get the boats over the dam. Then it was a short few yards on over to the sandbar. We drug Conner?s yak into the woods and made a makeshift blind by a big huge log he could sit on. I placed a pair of woody decoys on the sandbar and the other three went in the water right at the bar. Conner got his stuff stowed and knew everything else he needed to do. I got on the Slayer and shoved off, heading on up stream.
Racing against the sun, I paddled as quickly as possible and as far up as I could get before first light came. A few woodies jumped up and I about lost everything when a big fat beaver got startled and slapped his tail hard against the water a few feet from the boat. Ruddy busted out barking and the whole woods seemed to come alive with noise and warning calls. I figured I had paddled a mile or so up from the beaver dam, so that would set me up for a decent float on back down. Letting the boat drift a bit, I sat alongside of a blown down tree till shooting time arrived. Taking the old Browning pump out of its case, I attached a paddle leash to the end of the stock for that ?just-in-case? moment, and loaded it up. Hardly any time had pbootyed when I spotted a woody drake making his way straight for me. Ruddy was watching as I pulled up the gun and dropped him with a single shot straight on. ?Ruddy?, I said quietly, and he hit the water and made his way to the bird. It had drifted into another downed tree and I thought this could get interesting, but the current wasn?t too bad and Ruddy handled the situation like a pro. Bird in the boat and dog safely back in his spot, we decided to push off and start the float back down to Conner.
Now if any of you have ever float-hunted before, you know the birds all seem to push their way down in front of you making sure they never get into your gunning range. At some point they will fly either on down the river or turn back and head by you over the woods. Hopefully they would go ahead and fly on down to Conner so he would get a shot. As I drifted on down paddling only to maneuver the boat, I spotted a half dozen birds, so I made a bit of noise and flipped my paddle a bit and that was all it took to send them scurrying. A bit later I heard it?BOOM, BOOM???.Boom. Good, the kid got some shooting. I waited a bit and continued my drift. As I rounded a bend, I startled a great blue heron and it flew on down screaming some nasty insults as it went. It was as peaceful as it could be and at times I would almost forget that my goal was to get that boy a drake duck. He had shot a decent deer last year and he loved to squirrel hunt with his .22 around his house?but he just couldn?t connect with the right birds when he was shooting that shotgun.
The calm was broken when I heard another couple of shots downstream. His second volley...maybe he has a bird or two by now. A few moments later I saw a pair of woodies buzzing on up the river at full speed. I gathered up my gun and pulled out in front of the drake?BOOM?splash. Now it was time for some quick decisions. The limit was three birds, and it wouldn?t be too long before I was down to the beaver pool...do I go ahead and try for the hen or just push on and hope I get another chance on another drake? CHUNK?another round goes into the chamber and I pull up on the hen. She has shifted from the other side of the river and my shot will be nearly broadside. BOOM? SPLASH goes me over the side of the boat, losing my balance when I swing on the hen?and SPLASH goes Ruddy into the water. The little dude comes up with a look of horror but recovers quickly and heads on towards the drake I dropped with the first shot. That last little shift of weight when the gun recoiled was all it took. Luckily I had my neoprene waders and PFD on. Their natural buoyancy along with the fact it was only about a foot deep where I was only let a few cups of water in the back as I rolled myself up quickly out of the water. My arms were a bit wet?and I could feel my butt was pretty wet?but that was about it. I slogged over and got my paddle, got everything that fell out back in the boat, and looked to see where the gun ended up. I grabbed my paddle leash and thankfully the leash held and the gun was still attached to the end. I got up on the bank and pulled the waders off, rung out my pants and socks?and was good to go. Ruddy had fetched the bird he went after and was messing around in the woods as I got myself back together. I called him when I was ready to get back in the boat and he came running out with the hen?well?I didn?t even realize I had hit her. Good, I thought?I could just go ahead and put my gun back into the floating case and be done with it.
Barely getting back into the drift, I heard another shot. Conner was still at it. BOOM?another shot, then another. I know he knew what the limit was and I was hoping all the trips to the skeet range would have improved his shooting a bit anyways. I decided to go ahead and paddle the rest of the way and get on down to where he was. As I rounded the bend into the beaver pool, I whistled to let him know I was there. Pulling onto the sandbar, Ruddy jumped out and ran over to Conner to greet him. I drug the Slayer into the woods and made my way over to the kid??Where?s your birds?? I asked. He replied, ?In the air.? ?How many shots did you have?? ?A few?I got a squirrel? he said, then added it got stuck in a tree and a hawk came and got it. ?A hawk?you didn?t shoot it did you?? ?Shoot no! I ain?t stupid! Did you get any?? ?Three?, I said. Just then out of nowhere, a beautiful big woody drake sat down right smack in the middle of the decoys. Ruddy spotted it and froze. Conner just sat there. I whispered to him??Shoot?. Nothing. ?Do you see that drake in the decoys?? ?Yep?he?s too close to the decoys.? ?He won?t be if you let him jump up?screw the decoys?shoot that bird!? The boy lifted his gun up and lined up on him. I don?t know if he is going to shoot it on the water or if he is going to jump shoot it?then BOOM! BOOM, BOOM!!!
The first shot hit a good three feet to the right of the duck, the other shots never touched a feather. The bird flies off. I say to Conner??I think you missed.? ?Ya think!? he says in disgust. Ruddy just looked at him but was definitely thinking a few choice words?
Well that was it. We sat there for about another 30 minutes hoping another squirrel would show up or something. We ate our snacks and Ruddy wolfed down half of Conner?s cold biscuit, then we loaded up the boats and headed on back to the truck. After shoving the yaks in the back, I pulled off the waders and Conner noticed something a bit strange??Hey Mr. Keith?why are your britches so wet?? ?That log we were sitting on must have been wet?leaked through my waders? I replied. He had to remind me that he wasn?t wearing any waders and his britches weren?t wet. So I went on to tell him?Ruddy, the sorry dog he was, broke on one of those retrieves and flipped me right into the drink. Thankfully Conner believed that story and Ruddy being the good dog he was didn?t tell on his master and the sorry balance he had swinging on broadsided shots.